Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Comparative Essay of Jung Chang's "Wild Swans" and Nien Cheng's "Life and Death in Shanghai"

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It is apparent to the readers of both Wild Swans and Life and Death in Shanghai that there are similarities and mostly differences concerning the treatment of Jung Chang and Nien Cheng along with their families.


Though both stories are regarding the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the two accounts are very different experiences and the narrative is told in two different perspectives.


Both women and their families were both comprised into the revolution, but it clearly becomes evident that the two different accounts are treated differently under the same supreme ruler and the readers have the opportunity to observe the corrupt political situation the nation was endured in.


However different the stories are, there a few similarities if both stories are held in comparison. As the differences hold great importance to evaluate the stories of Jung Chang and Nien Cheng, the similarities are perhaps more significant as they outline the demeanor of both accounts and withhold the moderate key to reason with why these two women had to witness a big event in history, yet one that would scar their lives forever.


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Nien Cheng was considered to be a “class enemy”. This was brought upon for many reasons such as being educated in England, marrying a rich man who worked with her along side her for Shell (a multinational oil company), being wealthy and enjoying the fine luxuries that the Western society culture had to offer. However, for Jung Chang, she was the daughter of two officials of the Communist Party in China and was not accused of being a capitalist as her family held status in their society and was working under the supreme Chairman Mao.


Though both families had their wealthy status in common…. the Chang family was rich too, and like Nien Cheng, enjoyed the finer things in life. Though this was completely defining the philosophy of Communism of having equality, no body accused the Chang family like they did to Nien Cheng.


Nien Cheng was an obvious target for the destructive and violent organization of high school students, known as the Red Guards. The Red Guards were organization groups spread throughout China who had a mission to destroy all the “class enemies” with Mao’s support of course. Nien Cheng was selected as a “class enemy” purely because of her past and wealth. Her past in particular was used against her to accuse her of decadent crimes that labeled her an evil capitalist. She was accused of being a descendant of a big landlord family and that her father was a senior official of the pre-Kuomintang government. Because of her education in England, she was said to be “trained by the British to be a faithful running dog” in one of their universities. Cheng’s husband was also a subjected to her situation and was described as “fortunate to have died and escaped judgment by the Revolutionaries.” On the night that the Red Guards invaded Nien Cheng’s property and put her onto house arrest, they claimed her house was a “luxury.” This was clearly a defiant towards the laws of Communism. Cheng was also accused of trying to “undermine” their “revolutionary activities” by fighting back and trying to “preserve old culture.” The revolutionary also claimed that Cheng to be extremely stubborn and arrogant and outrageously accused her of keeping a “wild animal” in the house to attack the revolutionaries. However, Nien was not allowed to defend herself against the allegations, her only choice was to confess or die. Cheng was very brave and stood her ground claming that she was not guilty and had nothing to confess.


It is very obvious that Nien suffered greatly during this time and received the most appalling and unfair treatment. Nien was venerable to the destructible Red Guards and their “punishments” were inevitable based on Nien’s life and suffered great humiliation and disgrace by the “revolutionary actions.” Due to the ignorant high school children that interrupted Nien’s once peaceful existence, she had a long journey that consisted on pain, misery, physical and mental abuse that was evidently very difficult to tolerate.


Jung Chang’s account was very different to Nien’s account. She was not victimized by the Red Guards; she was infact apart of the organization. However, Chang was seen as a “softie” and was often ridiculed for this as she had to be more aggressive and more forceful to fit the criteria of a Red Guard. However much she was criticized though, nobody ever took action against her. This was due to her parents positions as officials for the communist party. The Chang family was very fortunate to hold this status in their society as many others were turned against and accused of outlandish crimes. Though Chang’s treatment greatly differed to that of Nien Cheng, she still bears the scars of mental abuse.


Subsequent to joining the Red Guards, Chang wanted to prove to herself and her piers that she could fit the position of her rank. The Red Guards opened a door to Chang that would affect her life, though she would only realize this later on in life, after her escape from China. She was exposed to the cruel demeanor and reality behind the Red Guards;


They were merely High School Students, who held Chairman Mao’s approval to go out and terrorize many innocents, mock them and horrifically torment them. This exposure left many questions within Chang. However, she very quickly learnt to suppress her thoughts as she believed that whatever Mao thought was good must be alright. This is very damaging to her frame of mind as they believed that she was not tolerant to be asking unanswered questions and feeling emotions of horror and remorse towards her fellow Red Guards. Chang would be mentally scared in this perspective as her character later on in the duration of her life could be affected greatly, and she would always have mental torture to remain with her. Chang makes it very apparent that at the time of the Revolution, she did not wish for the violence and unjust actions to be carried out, but her mind was suppressed and perhaps too “brainwashed” to believe in her morality and have her own mind.


The Cultural Revolution hit the Chang family hard. No body was prepared for it and did not know what to do when it arrived. Perhaps, the only thing Jung Chang and her generation of children could hold onto was persuasion from Mao which was fulfilling her with vitality. But nether less, Chang suffered great mental distress and had signals of trepidation in the duration of the Cultural Revolution.


Nien Cheng was detained as a prisoner in 167 and remained in the penitentiary (which had appalling living conditions) for 6.5 years upon her release in March 17. It is substantial to the readers of her text that this is where Nien Cheng suffered the most horrific treatment yet. She suffered physical abuse from the guards in order to provoke her to “confess” her “crimes.” She was the cuffed as her “punishment.” She also experienced very bad health in the 6.5 years duration as she came down with a bad case of pneumonia which marked the beginning of her serious physical deterioration. She was in lack of nutritious food, sunshine and fresh air which caused her body’s aging process to speed up quicker. This also reduced her mental powers to such an extent that she found it difficult to concentrate on one subject for too long. This prospect frightened Nien Cheng very much. She received very vile treatment while she served time in the prison and paid dearly with her evident mental and physical stress.


However, ultimately, Nien Cheng was realized as she was stated to be politically backward and ignorant… therefore allowing her to leave the detention house as a free person. Yet this remarkable woman refused by stating that she could not accept the conclusion as it did not declare her innocence of any crime and no apology and rehabilitation was acknowledged. Nien suffered greatly during this time upon her release. The stress imposed on her was shocking and would be suspected to be a great strain on her life currently.


Although how different both accounts were, there are a few similarities that connect these two texts together. Such as both women telling their stories in the duration of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. They were both subjected to Chairman Mao and his followers, and both suffered under the intense conditions.


Both women recall their accounts with great accuracy and raw material they visual out to their readers. The readers are left to feel that both women can relate to each other’s account as they both tell their stories with (perhaps) dismay, but yet passion and wanted awareness. Both women suffered under Mao’s leadership and authority and it is very substantial that the montague to each story is effective and could easily link in with one another as both are quite similar in the perspective that Nien Cheng and Jung Chang witnessed the Cultural Revolution before their very eyes.


I believe that these two women were differently treated due to their family circumstances. The Chang family held status in their community and had involvement in the Communist party, so Jung was therefore treated with respect and not besieged by the “capitalist hunters.” And I believe that it is undeniably true to say that Nien Cheng was treated so badly because she was educated in England, was working for Shell, was wealthy and enjoyed the Western Society Culture. She was an obvious target for the Red Guards to accuse of being a Capitalist.


It is very undemanding for the readers of both texts to suggest that Chang did not experience most of the pain due to appalling treatment that Nien Cheng would have endured. It is correct to state that both accounts are very different, yet tell a different story to two different women and their families.


Yet these differences still don’t succeed over the obvious similarities that are analyzed by the readers of both texts.


And therefore for these reasons it is appropriate to suggest that Nien Cheng and Jung Chang evidently experienced stories in the interval of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and accounted for many similarities and differences.





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